From the earliest days, mankind has always been curious about why everything in our universe works the way it does. Ancient man gazed up at the night sky and tried to make sense of what he saw. He noted patterns, and then predicted the way stars move. Right here on earth, man has always tried to grasp the laws of nature that govern routine everyday observations and interactions – why objects behave the way they do, why and how they transform, move or come to a stop. Newton formalized a set of laws in the 17th century that helped understand this. But soon enough we realized their limitations in explaining movements both in extremely large star systems as well as within the sub-atomic world. Albert Einstein then expanded our understanding by proposing new laws that helped explain observations that Newton’s laws couldn’t.
‘Physics’ is the overarching term used to describe our never ending quest of understanding all things in space and time, while using the scientific method of repeatable and verifiable observations. Subjects like astronomy, chemistry, material sciences, quantum mechanics, medicine and all branches of engineering focus on understanding specific aspects of what fall within the all – encompassing umbrella of physics.
Teaching is always a challenge, particularly when students today consider the subject of physics to be as difficult as math. Perhaps the greatest and most valuable skill is to develop a sense of curiosity and wonder how the innumerable gadgets and appliances we are constantly using work. From lanterns to LEDs, from landlines to mobile phones, from cameras to TVs, from record players to iPods, space rockets, satellites orbiting in space, electric cars, magnetic levitation, hovercraft and jet planes – technology has transformed the world we live in today. All this is possible due to the constant research conducted by physicists and their inventions and discoveries.
How do we keep students motivated and interested in scientific questions that come up all around us? Primarily, we need to change pedagogical methods in classrooms, and endeavor to make the learning experience exciting. It starts by helping students quickly appreciate its relevance in a real-life context.
An activity-oriented approach must aim to relate science to our personal experiences and socially significant problems such as water supply, pollution, sanitation and hygiene, solar energy, etc. When students are encouraged to discuss and relate the concepts to their lives and the world around, they learn better and it will slowly but surely begin to motivate them and help them value science study. Class field trips that are directly related to the curriculum will also make the learning worthwhile and real.
Today, with easy computer access both in schools and at home, the internet holds great promise as an educational tool. Physics 4 Kids, Science for Kids, Science is Fun, Home Experiments, and Fun Science Experiments for Kids are some websites that provide plenty of ideas. The Middle School syllabus normally covers basic concepts. The classroom could serve as the lab for experiments and activities as most equipment needed can be obtained from simple materials found in the house. Introduce the study of dispersion of light by creating a rainbow in class, static electricity by bending the stream of water from a tap, and buoyancy by using dancing raisins. These will be dramatic and instantly whet the students’ appetites for more! The Cartoon Guide to Physics or Physics is Fun are books full of humorous illustrations to fascinate and amuse even a layman. They would make great additions to a class library.
Schools and teachers today are being challenged to make science literacy a reality for all students. The teaching-learning program should be meaningful and rewarding both for students who intend to pursue higher science study, and also for those looking at management, finance and business studies since it trains the mind to think beyond rigid boundaries.
The author has taught math and physics for middle and high school classes. She can be reached at [email protected].